One of the biggest storylines of this NFL playoff is that the Ravens are nevermore.
Baltimore was sent slinking into offseason darkness on Saturday by a gritty Titans team using the improbable blueprint of running the football.
The Titans are now fresh off back-to-back playoff victories where they didn’t throw for 100 yards. Most importantly, the team rests just one win away from its first Super Bowl appearance since that Music City Miracle of a season in 1999.
I had the pleasure of being in Baltimore on Saturday for the gratifying win, a game where once-rowdy Ravens fans used their library voice for much of the second half before hitting the exit gates midway through the fourth quarter.
One thing I can say about Ravens faithful is they’re gracious in defeat. Even after watching Derrick Henry trample their defense, I was still offered hospitality at several surrounding tailgate parties that lingered into the night, all while I was yelling, “Whooo, go Titans!” Baltimore has the nickname Charm City and residents are determined to do their part to give this moniker some teeth.
Our heroes from Nashville are now glaring into the teeth of their next great challenge -- Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. The last time the Chiefs lost, they were playing in Nashville and have rattled off seven straight wins since that Week 10 defeat.
And let’s not forget, the Chiefs are still smarting from a 37-31 overtime loss to the Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship so they’ve been at this very spot before.
The Chiefs can put two touchdowns on the board faster than I can make microwave popcorn. In Sunday’s 51-31 victory over the Texans, Kansas City scored TDs on seven consecutive offensive drives, an NFL record.
Mahomes finished with 321 yards passing, which would take Titans QB Ryan Tannehill about four games to achieve at his current pace. Traditional wisdom would suggest there’s no way the Titans can go on the road into hostile Arrowhead Stadium and withstand such an unstoppable force.
But that narrative was tossed into the water of the Chesapeake Bay last weekend as the Titans silenced Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s best offense. Meanwhile, Henry grabbed a piece of league history of his own by becoming the first player ever to rush for at least 180 yards in three straight games.
Henry could very likely make it four straight Sunday against a leaky Chiefs run defense that let him ramble for 188 yards and 2 TDs in that Week 10 matchup, which the Titans won 35-32.
So what’s it going to take for a Titans victory and berth in the Super Bowl? The short and certain answer is more Derrick Henry. At this point, it appears hard to envision a scenario where bruising No. 22 doesn’t rush for at least 150 yards.
Much talk has surrounded Tannehill and his lack of passing yardage, but he was remarkably efficient against the Ravens, throwing for 2 TDs and shedding a tackle to rush for another. He posted a 109.5 QB rating and finished with 88 passing yards.
Oddsmakers have the Chiefs as a 7.5-point favorite, a week after the Ravens were favored to beat the Titans by 10. Another big upset is brewing.
The key will be the Titans front seven, which is coming off a four-sack game where Lamar Jackson’s highlight-reel runs were limited. If Mahomes has enough time to sit in the pocket and make a sandwich, it’s only a matter of time till he finds his playmakers. The Titans have to make him squirm.
Henry will get his yards and I expect Tannehill to perform well. If the defense can find a way to make a difference with pressure, the Titans will be headed to Miami for the franchise’s second Super Bowl berth.